As the Herald Law Awards of Scotland gears up for its 20th anniversary, Frances McMenamin KC, a judge on the panel for half of that time, talks to Agnes Stevenson about how the awards recognise talent and innovation as well as her plans to call time on a glittering legal career.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Herald Law Awards of Scotland. Over two decades these high-profile awards have recognised outstanding work by members of Scotland’s legal profession, throwing a spotlight on individual achievements and innovative thinkers who have made a long-lasting contribution to the way in which law is practised.
For the last 10 years Frances McMenamin KC has played a key role in assessing the strength of applications and looking for evidence of the high-level achievement that makes the winners stand out from others in their field. She announced her retirement as Judge at last year’s ceremony, but not before her contribution to Scotland’s legal standing was recognised when she was given the Chairman’s Award. It came, says McMenamin, as a “complete surprise” when her name was read out from the podium, however it would have come as no surprise to anyone who has followed her career that she should be honoured for her achievements and her contribution to the Scottish legal fraternity.
As Scotland’s senior female KC, McMenamin has a formidable reputation in the criminal courts and has been a key figure in some of the country’s most high-profile trials. For 22 years she was a visiting lecturer at The Scottish Police College, she has been a member of the Law School Advisory Panel for The University of Strathclyde and she is now Consultant Legal Adviser to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, having been on the board for over eight years until 2019.
Yet despite this very busy schedule, she still found time to be a judge for The Herald Law Awards. McMenamin says: “For me it was an opportunity to see those parts of the profession with which I had little experience. My time has been spent in criminal law and the courts, so here was my opportunity to find out more about the work of solicitors, of corporate law and of all those other areas where the law is practised.”
What she discovered she says was a wealth of talent and positive change within the profession. “I’ve been particularly impressed by those legal businesses that have embraced technology and used it to transform the way in which they provide a service to clients.”
The Herald Law Awards of Scotland have also highlighted the growth of niche firms, some of which McMenamin describes as “inspiring”. “Winners such as Mike Daly at the Govan Law Centre, whose work addresses social needs, have been so beneficial to many people and I am also humbled by the examples of pro bono work that the Awards have uncovered.
“What I’ve also discovered from being on the panel is that young lawyers have a far greater sense of corporate social responsibility than my generation did when we came into the profession and also there are firms making a real effort to open up careers in the law to people from a much wider range of backgrounds.”
The Herald Law Awards of Scotland, says McMenamin, have played an important part in flagging up these positive changes, helping to raise standards across the profession as a whole, and she would encourage more firms to put themselves forward for the honours. “The entry process has been simplified in recent years so it is now much easier for firms to complete the forms. It would be wonderful if more of those lawyers and law firms who are doing such great work would become involved so that their efforts can be recognised.”
After 39 years at the Bar, McMenamin intends to retire this year, but her contribution to the Scottish legal profession was recognised last week when a portrait of her by distinguished painter Mark Roscoe was unveiled at the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh, taking the space that until recently was occupied by Sir Walter Scott. She may be stepping back from her high-profile role and her position on the awards Judging Panel, but McMenamin will continue to watch the outcome of The Herald Law Awards of Scotland with interest, confident that they will carry on shining a spotlight on the profession that she has served with such distinction.
She leaves a strong panel in her stead and in 2023 the awards welcomed new judges, including Managing Partner of Anderson Strathern, Murray McCall, Rebecca Samaras, Director of Clinical Legal Education, University of Dundee, and Alex Prentice KC, who will take forward the mantle from the Crown Counsel.
The 20th Anniversary Herald Law Awards of Scotland, sponsored by Idex Consulting and Law Society of Scotland, takes place on Friday 15th November in Glasgow. Entries are opening soon, you can find out more at newsquestscotlandevents.com/events/lawawards/